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Digital banking can be more than just digital

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Providing a banking service that fits within the fabric of every individual lifestyle may be a far-away dream, but by effectively using data, and listening to customers, a bank can at least set off on the right trajectory, writes SHIONA BLUNDELL.

For most of us, banking is a ‘grudge purchase’. We don’t wake up in the morning and look forward to paying accounts, drawing cash from the ATM, or buying airtime. Our interactions with our bank’s call centres or branch staff generally relate to some type of problem that’s occurred.

Since the collapse of the global economy in 2008, and the multibillion dollar bailouts that ensued, our faith in banks has been shattered. Almost a decade later, they’re still struggling to regain lost trust. In the years since 2008, much has been said about the possibilities that digital presents –  to enhance distribution, address new markets, and optimise back-end processes.

Exposing transactional services in new and different ways – such as a smartphone app – is a small component of digitisation. However, in order to maximise the benefits that digitisation delivers, it is vital to capture the real opportunities that new digital technologies and platforms deliver moving forward.

So, what are the opportunities?

While all our major banks are quick to reach for catchphrases like “customer-centricity” and “user-centred design”, how many times have you received a call from your bank, asking what you would actually like from your banking relationship? How many banks are heading out ‘into the field’: understanding customer behaviours at taxi ranks, shops, community centres, offices, and everyday places that punctuate the lives of most South Africans?

We’re infatuated by the limitless possibilities of technology, but we’re failing to listen to what customers really want.

The real value of digital lies in the opportunity to move far closer to the customer, to engage in in-depth ‘customer discovery’ sessions, and at scale. It’s in analysing customer activity across all channels, challenging archaic regulation, removing complexity from customers’ experiences, and building services that provide greater convenience and address real needs.

It’s not about simply finding ways to improve internal efficiencies, or maximise external revenue streams. And it’s certainly not about rolling out the latest, new digital interfaces that we can showcase.

In the quest to become more relevant to their customer, perhaps the biggest opportunity for banks is in providing far more personalised services. Static approaches like segmentation models and LSM definitions simply do not capture the dynamic, multidimensional nature of the modern customer.

For instance, the same money transfer product may be used by mass market customers to send funds to unbanked family members, and by high net worth customers to send money to their children at school or varsity. Though it’s the same product, it’s being used by two very different customers, to satisfy very different needs. It’s only by considering the broader context that we can truly understand the customer behaviour.

Put simply, one size does not fit all. We all have a unique definition of what is acceptable in areas like security, convenience, customer service response times, or data privacy. From a technology perspective, we have different device and connectivity constraints. We have different language capabilities. From province to province, from urban to rural, our daily lives are starkly different.

Providing a banking service that perfectly fits within the fabric of every individual lifestyle may be a far-away dream, but by effectively using data, and listening to customers more closely, a bank can at least set off on the right trajectory.

As a parting thought, there’s a great example of a bank that actively listened to its customers on social media, noticing when one of its clients broadcast to his followers that he was extending his holiday. The bank took the opportunity to recommend a local accommodation provider, and arranged for a discounted stay. This kind of point-in-time, value adding engagement helps elevate the way the bank is seen by its customers – showing a caring and responsive brand personality, and generating increased customer loyalty in return.

This example represents just one of the many ways in which financial services players can use digital advancements to move closer to their customers – and ultimately elevate the relationship away from that of ‘grudge purchase’, towards more personalised, more enjoyable and valued experiences.

* Shiona Blundell, Head of Banking, Africa, Wipro Limited and Gavin Holme, Business Head, Africa, Wipro Limited

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Smart home arrives in SA

The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.

The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.

The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.

The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.

The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.

My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.

Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.

Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?

These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.

Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.

Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.

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Matrics must prepare for AI

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students writing a test

By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.

Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.

With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.

Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.

Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist. 

So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?

For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.

In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.

This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.

In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.

As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.

This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.

The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.

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